I don’t think I mentioned yet how my trip to Handworks 2015 went! I mean, I chatted it up a bit before the event, but I never wrote about it once I got back, did I? Let’s put a slight delay on the continuation of the beading tool collection and get that out of the way then, shall we?
To properly begin, I need to go back about two years to Handworks 2013. I showed up in Amana for two days of hand tool immersion at the first Handworks, but after spending a few hours chatting with people and buying the few bits of woodworking contrivances, I was… well, I was bored. I spent some time exploring Amana and eating some great food, but for some reason I didn’t hit on the social vibe of it all very well. Maybe I was having an off week or something.
To that end, when I heard that my friend Phil Edwards was going to fly over from jolly ol’ England to set up a booth at Handworks 2015 for Philly Planes, I contacted him and told him I wanted to help. This was partially because I genuinely wanted to help my friend; it was also because of my experience at Handworks 2013. I wanted to go back to Amana, but I wanted to have something to do there, as well! I wanted to be a part of the experience, not someone looking at it through the storefront window.
So a few weeks before the show, I received several boxes of marketing materials, planes, and marking gauges from England. I asked Phil if he wanted me to open them and sort through everything to make sure it had all arrived safely, but for some reason he thought that wouldn’t be necessary. I pleaded, but he was persistent with his reply. I managed to not accidentally open even one of the boxes, much to my own surprise.
On the Thursday before the event, I drove up with a car load of Phil’s wares and met him and his assistant, Steve, at the exhibitor’s barn. Er… actually, I showed up at the barn and found out where the booth was supposed to be, but Phil was nowhere to be found. And apparently Steve was with him.
Instead, I chatted up David Barron, who had the booth next to us, and Dave Jeske, who was on the other side of David Barron. And I watched Patrick Leach unload box after box (after box after box) of tools on the other side of Phil’s booth location. (Going home with any money in my pocket was going to be a true test of willpower this time around.)
Eventually (two hours later?), Phil did show up. They’d gotten lost driving from Chicago. They had a GPS, but apparently someone set it to a Southern accent and they couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
Ok, I might have made that up.
But what else could it have been? I mean, how can you get lost in Iowa? You basically have four directions you can travel, right? Every road is either North/South or East/West. And you can see your destination from miles away, so you know which one of those directions you should take!
I suspect it was really just culture shock (sunny weather and straight roads) caused them to require extra refreshments.
In any case, they eventually made it and we set up shop, preparing the tools for the show and hanging up a banner of sorts where it was guaranteed to hurt someone, should it ever fall. I even got an official name badge to wear! Later that evening, we got to attend a vendors-only viewing of that one tool chest everyone was so excited about.
I didn’t take any pictures of the Studley chest, myself. I bought the book. And the print (13 of 100, for anyone keeping score). Narayan takes much better pictures than me. Instead, I started taking pictures of “the Studley stepladder” over in the corner.
I had four people ask me what I was taking pictures of. “The Studley stepladder, of course,” was my response. It always took them a moment to realize I was joking.
A little bit later, I was talking to Raney Nelson and mentioned taking the pictures of the stepladder and the response I got from people. He said, “Dammit. That’s so good _I_ should have done it.” I’ll take that compliment, Raney.
The next morning, prepping for the woodworking masses, Phil handed me a 1cmx2cm piece of wax-saturated cloth and a can of Renaissance Wax and asked me to polish the smoothing planes. I stared at the “wax applicator” and cocked an eyebrow in disbelief, but since he didn’t appear to be joking, I did my best with his British version of “micro” fiber cloth. Then I used the shoe polishing cloth from my hotel room (yay for free hotel stuff!) to buff them out until they shined. I was so fond of his minimalist wax applicator that when I got home, I threw out the (apparently incredibly large) 12”x12” cotton cloth I’d been using for 10 years and replaced it with a bit of scrap flannel from some old pajamas…
At 10:00 on Friday morning, the doors opened and woodworkers of all shapes and sizes poured in. Right away, I began taking questions about Phil’s marking gauges. And I answered them. Correctly, even. And made some sales! Phil and Steve were amazed at how comfortable I was at selling his wares. Knowing the product is part of it; the other part is being able to comfortably chat with complete strangers – I had both things going for me.
Occasionally Phil would unlock my chain and let me wander around. I suspect it was so he and Steve could download pirated movies using my Hotspot access I’d set up for him to handle credit card transactions. They both feigned ignorance on that account.
There were so many great hand tool makers there, and I tried to get pictures of them all, but… these two English blokes kept jumping into frame at the last moment, acting like they were buddy buddy with everyone…
I kid, of course. That is Mike Hancock and Alex Primmer from Classic Hand Tools, a UK on-line purveyor of woodworking tools of the finest quality. They came to Handworks to experience the event and to meet face-to-face with all of the US vendors whose tools they sell in the UK. Mike asked me if I would follow them around and try and take some piccies of them with the tool makers and I was happy to assist. If you ever see Mike at a show, be sure and buy him a beer, as he is the reason why we can buy Auriou rasps again. Better yet, buy him three…
While on our photo-taking tour, Mike claimed he had a thirst of the most urgent nature, so we made our way to Amana’s only brewhouse for a pint. Or three. They poked fun at me when I balked at the third beer. But it was in their best interest as I was the only staff photographer! So I took one for the team and drank it. If the last pictures of the day are a bit blurry or not quite framed right, you can blame the Brits.
At the end of the second day, we packed up shop and went down the street for drinks. Knowing the Lie-Nielsen crew was going to show up at some point for dinner, we graciously held a table in reserve for them. After they showed up, we left. But before exiting the parking lot, one or more British citizens in our party smeared melted chocolate candy bars all over Deneb’s rental car, laughing hysterically as they did it.
Having driven very far away at that point, to go to dinner in Cedar Rapids at a then-undisclosed location (for fear of LN Retaliation), we waited for the call. True to form, Deneb called and shouted the joys of finding said chocolate through Alex’s mobile (on speaker). A bit later, I got dropped off at my hotel and packed my bags to leave early the next day.
As I was leaving the hotel on Sunday morning, I climbed into the elevator, holding an unrolled Print #13 from Narayan’s limited edition run, with none other than Roy Underhill.
I’ve met and bumped into Roy several times over the years, so I don’t quite have the star-struck eyes that some seem to have when meeting him. We chatted a bit.
Roy (nodding at the print): Thou shalt have no idols…
Me: Oh, I’m putting this up in the shop with that blue poster tack stuff.
Me: The plan is to try and hit it with kickback from the tablesaw.
Me: Actually, I lied. I sold my tablesaw in January. So I’m just going to throw offcuts from my benchhook at it.
Roy (laughing again as he stepped off the elevator): Take care.
I made Roy laugh, so I consider that a successful conversation. Hopefully he appreciated having a quick chat with someone who didn’t ask him to sign something or ask him a woodworking question or go on with the adoration one does as they meet their idol.
After loading my luggage and print (that I won’t REALLY throw offcuts at or hang in the shop with blue poster tack, Narayan), I went to get in the front of my car, only to find melted Twix bar all over my door handle. And on the windshield.
Oh, those funny Brits. But no worries, mates. I have a four year old. I travel with wet wipes at all times.
If you want to read Mike’s Review of Handworks 2015, you can check it out here. If you have any sort of appreciation for proper English humour, you should definitely check it out. He had me in tears. And once I got over the pain of the “lily white legs” comment, I saw there were some funny bits in there, too.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved being able to see the Studley Tool Chest in person. It was the experience of a life time. But the most important things I’ll take away from Handworks 2015 are the new friendships I made and the friendships that became RL (instead of just being digital). At the forefront of this list is the people I spent the most time with all weekend – Phil, Steve, Alex, and Mike. I had such an awesome time with these guys. Mostly, it was great to never have to explain a joke because they completely understood my humour (possibly not a good thing, come to think of it).
It felt good to be at Handworks with a purpose this time, helping Phil out at his Philly Planes booth and helping Mike and Alex get photos with their vendors. It made this trip 100 times better than Handworks 2013. Hopefully I can work with all of them again in the future in some capacity. Maybe as the US liaison of Classic Hand Tools, yay, Alex and Mike?
(P.S. By the way, Steve and Alex… we redheads have long memories. And, as a Taurus, I dutifully hold a grudge for life. One of these days, I’ll make it to the European show. Best hope you have wet wipes in YOUR cars when I do. Cheers!)
If I haven’t already made that abundantly clear, I’m a sucker for odd and unusual tools, especially when they are completely useful to me in my shop. When I have smaller clamping tasks, I like to use old C-clamps – the kind with acme threads and cool details, like a shapely or interesting knob on the threaded post. I usually find them at estate sales for just $1 or $2; I never pay more than $5 for one. I have about four or five that see constant use in my shop.
But move over bacon, it’s time for something meatier! A few weeks ago, I was strolling through some eBay searches (possibly the best way to describe my relationship with eBay) when I stumbled upon this little gem…
What ho! What are YOU, my little metal friend, and where have you been all of my woodworking life?
In case you’ve never seen one, either, it is an eccentric (cam-action) clamp by E. C. Stearns. It is the smallest model, the No. 0, with a 2 ¼” opening, made of malleable iron. This is the “A” style, where the bar curves up to form part of the head that holds the plunger mechanism. (I KNEW that 1977 reprint of the 1924 E. C. Stearns & Co. Catalog would come in handy some day!)
The seller was in southern Missouri, so it didn’t take long to arrive. We chatted a few days after I received it; I wanted to let him know how cool the clamp was and that I was already putting it to work in the shop. Ummm… I also asked him about his method for cleaning it, because this:
Er… I happened to find another one that listed the same day I received the first one. Fortuitous, no? It had a BIN that was reasonable and there were already several watchers after just a few hours, so I didn’t let it sit there for long. It’s also an eccentric, “A” style clamp by E. C. Stearns. This is the No. 1, with a 4″ opening. It was a bit rustier than the first one; in fact, it didn’t really work very well because of the rust on the cam and post. I had a pretty good idea of how I would clean it up, but I wanted to check with the seller of the No. 0 to see if that was what he did, as well. It was!
So last night I spent a bit of time in the garage at the slow speed grinder, using a brass wire wheel to clean up the clamp. I will probably always keep that tool in the garage, or at least outside of the shop proper, because I don’t like the idea of having bits of ground metal in the woodworking shop. After a bit of touching up with a smaller brass wheel on the Dremel, I refreshed my microfiber shop woobie with a few spritzes of camellia oil and wiped down both clamps.
Here are the fruits of my labor:
These things are a joy to use! The sliding jaw on both clamps moves very easily (I won’t voluntarily admit to sometimes struggling with getting the jaws adjusted on my F-style and parallel bar clamps). There wasn’t any way to photograph it, but a spiral spring located between the jaw and the bar holds the jaw in place once you position it. Clamping pressure by the eccentric plunger causes a slight racking of the jaw, which locks it into place. Both clamps are able to exert plenty of pressure for any of the tasks I would give them, like pressing a small inlay into place or adding a stop block to my miter box fence or any of the other numerous tasks I normally use C-clamps for in the shop.
You and I are both really lucky I don’t have any kind of “Schwarz” effect on the price of tools when I talk about them. Otherwise, my blog would be really boring, as I wouldn’t write about any of these great tools until I’m certain I don’t need to buy any more! As it stands, I’m not really afraid of writing about them while the initial excitement is still high.
For the next post, I’ll try to get back on-track with my beading tool collection. Stay tuned.
Before he invented the iconic Langdon Acme Miter Box, William Parsons, an employee of the Millers Falls tool company, created a light-weight “miter machine” (so called because it wasn’t very box-like). Patented in 1902, it was marketed as the Star Mitre Box.
This early invention of Parsons was significantly smaller than the typical wooden and cast iron miter boxes commonly found in shops at that time. It was also more rugged, lacking the fragile legs you often find broken (and then brazed) on older miter boxes. Millers Falls promoted this combination of durability and portability in their marketing, claiming you could even use it to cut cornice moulding while standing atop a ladder!
In 1907, they released an upgraded version of the tool. This newer version featured a tilting saw guide, giving you the ability to make compound miter cuts. The earlier version is referred to as the Star Mitre Box No. 40 in old tool catalogs I’ve seen, while the latter version is referred to as the No. 41.
I recently acquired my example of this tool while searching for who-knows-what on my favourite auction site. At first, I passed over it without a second thought, my mind on other things. But five minutes later, I had a “wait a second…’ moment as my brain finally kicked in and I’d realized what it was.
Having read about it before on OldToolHeaven (which is also where I got some of the information used in this post), I knew it was the precursor to the Langdon Miter Box. I also knew I’d never seen one before, either in a collection or for sale. Frantically, I retraced my searches (not always an easy thing) and, finding it once more, took a longer look.
It didn’t take another five minutes for me to decide the seller didn’t really know what they were selling (the BIN was under $30, with free shipping) or to conclude that I wanted to get it and study it more closely. Honestly, I also thought it might prove useful in my shop. I seem to do just as much work with construction-grade lumber as I do with dimensional lumber, but I hate lugging my miter box around the house and garage and I hate carrying the lumber down to the shop to use the miter box. I don’t think I’ll ever find myself cutting cornice moulding while standing atop a ladder, but I could see it earning its keep.
It arrived in the post in short order and the next time I was able to get into the shop, I disassembled it and began removing 100+ years of grime and gunk. There was a fair amount of japanning loss, but it still looked to retain maybe 75%; not bad for a tool designed to see use outside the shop.
In disassembling it, I quickly discovered it was adjustable! Of course it is! You can’t rely on a factory setting to remain true for the life of the tool, can you? The two screws on either side of the sliding pin that locks the fence in position can be adjusted with great precision. A notch in the fence plate allows you to set the fence to 90 degrees. Additional notches on either side of the center notch are presets for 22.5, 30, and 45 degree cuts.
The guide that holds the plate is designed to work with full-sized, panel, and back saws. As long as you have a big enough saw plate that it can stay in the guide and still cut to the depth you need, it should work. I made test cuts with a full-sized D-8, a D-8 panel saw, and my Bad Axe 20’ miter saw; all performed well, though of course my Bad Axe miter saw excelled at the task.
The Star Miter Box isn’t perfectly balanced that it would sit on its own, so I chanced using some double-sided tape on the back of the fence with the lighter panel saw for the stand-alone pictures. I didn’t want to risk the miter box falling with the heavier saws; even just a few feet off of a cork floor, I’d rather not drop and damage it before owning it less than a month. And, of course, I didn’t want to damage my saws, either!
As you can see, it made a perfectly square cut with almost no effort on my part. Oh, yes, I can see this being used in my house.
I spent a little time practicing my Google-fu to see who else on the interwebz had an example of one of these miter box guide thingys. Interestingly enough, I was only able to track down one other person, Mark van Roojen, who has posted anything on the internet. I sent Mark an e-mail and we exchanged some thoughts and discussion on our highly unusual items.
Whereas I have the original Star Miter Box, he has the 1907 version (which has “No. 41” cast into the main body). He had an interesting story about acquiring his – he first saw it at a flea market, but didn’t buy it. He later realized what he’d missed out on and kicked himself for an extended period of time for NOT buying it. At an MWTCA meeting four years later, he found what he suspected was the exact same miter box for sale. That time, he bought it. I’m glad it only took me five minutes to figure out what I was looking at…
Aside from a few forum hits, where it is Mark asking for any information about his No. 41 back in 2007, I couldn’t find anything else. So I figured I would document what I found, partially because I found it highly interesting. But I also thought maybe there are others out there who have one of these sitting in their shop and they don’t know anything about it. If you’re one of those people, now you do.
If you’re not one of those people, now you have something new to keep an eye out for. Sorrynotsorry.
Editor’s Note: This last post on the conference table will be fairly low on pictures, as it just covers the finish and delivery of the piece and some final thoughts. Taking pictures of the finishing process is about as exciting as watching the finish cure. And I didn’t go overboard on the pictures after I delivered it because my plan is to go back in a few months and do some better photographs (for a reason I’ll go into later).
After all of the butterfly inlays were completed, I began prepping the top and edges for finish with a combination of planes, scrapers, and sand paper. I’ll be the first to admit I did not work the top with just planes. I did use traditional hand tools for a lot of the work up to this point, doing such things as smoothing transitions in the edges and between the two planks and leveling the butterflies, but I used my Festool ROS 125 to really get everything evened out and prepped for finish.
I decided to go with a Waterlox finish for several reasons. This was my project and I wanted to do as much of it on my own as I could; that meant using a finish I could apply myself, without spraying, and without the use of an oversized finish room (i.e. clean) environment. I also wanted something that was easily repairable. In most cases, a damaged Waterlox finish can be easily fixed with a bit of sanding and spot-application of additional finish. The newly applied finish coats will amalgamate with the old finish, leaving a seamless repair.
There is a great series of videos on Youtube for applying a Waterlox finish by AskWoodman. Really, he offers some great finishing tips that work with most methods, like his technique for getting all of the sanding dust and particles off of the wood before finishing it. I followed his suggestion and was very impressed with the results. (Sorry, I really want to give him credit for that tip, so I think you should take the time to watch his videos to get it.)
After the surface was fully prepared, I worked my way through six full coats, using a sponge brush as an applicator. After the third and fifth coats, I smoothed the surface with a grey nylon pad. After the sixth coat, I smoothed it with a white nylon pad. Per the Waterlox White Papers, I did not apply these coats, let them sit a while, and then wipe them off. Had I done that, I would have ended up doing at least 25 coats to get the same level of protection as the six I put down.
At that point, I was ready for the base. Unfortunately, I had no base! The original due date was already delayed by the seller, but there was some additional delay time because of a design element change (we decided to add a trestle support between the two legs for added stability and to prevent racking).
Two weeks later than the initial scheduled date, I finally received the legs and trestle. Then I spent another three evenings fixing them.
(In an early draft of this post, I detailed all of the problems I had with the base. I decided not to include them, for length concerns and for the sake of decency.)
In the end, they turned out to be quite good, but it took a lot of extra work on my end of things to make it so. Because of that, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend the company where I bought the legs. I would suggest, however, that you learn a lesson from my mistake.
If you find someone through such online sites as eBay or Etsy who offers services or goods you require, I would highly recommend you USE that online site to complete the purchase those goods or services and not buy the product directly from the seller. Yes, there are additional fees for the seller; that’s the price of doing business, isn’t it? In return, they get a good source of marketing and recourse in the event a buyer fails to hold up their end of the deal.
But you benefit from such an arrangement, as well. You have records of transactions and payments monitored by a third party. This likewise gives you easier access to recourse, should things go bad. More importantly, you also have the ability to leave proper feedback for the seller in those environments, which is often encouragement for them to ensure things do NOT go bad in the first place. By learning from my mistake, maybe you can avoid having an “invoice” sent to you that is just a cell phone picture of a flatscreen monitor showing the shipping website with the shipping costs. (Yes, that happened.)
If they balk when you tell them you do not want to complete the transaction outside the online site where they advertise their product, you might consider taking your business elsewhere. I know I will.
Two days before I left for Handworks 2015 for a weekend of fun, friends, and… well, hand tools, I hauled a pair of legs and a trestle to the client’s office to install them on the table top, which had been delivered two days earlier. With absolute precision planning (i.e. sheer dumb luck), the table sat on the saw horses about ¼’ higher than the top of the assembled base. So I was able to slide the base under the table, mark out exactly where it needed to go, and use my drill bit to mark the locations of the holes. Then I slid the base out of the way, drilled the holes, and slid it back into place. I removed the saw horses, dropping the top into position, and attached it without any fuss.
I received my only injury from this build somewhere about that time. Crawling around on the synthetic office carpeting for an hour, trying to position the base properly and drill holes without eating a bunch of sawdust, I rubbed a spot on my right knee raw. I’m not complaining; I’ve seen and had worse woodworking injuries.
I snapped a few quick pictures of the table in place before I packed up my tools and headed home, with the understanding that these were not the FINAL pictures. The plan is to go back in about two months, after the finish has more fully cured, and buff it out with a coat of paste wax. By that time, the sheen will also have reduced from about 80% to something more like 50%-60% and whatever proper conference table chairs the client decides on getting should be in place. I’ll bring my photography lights and take pictures of the table with the overhead florescent lights off to further cut down on the reflection. I’ll post a few more pictures at that time.
I entered this project with quite a few reservations. I’d never worked on anything this large before. The deadline was tight. The wood was going to be hard to source. And the budget was on the low end.
But I knew it would be a good test of both my physical skills and my mental abilities. It was a great learning experience and I have absolutely no regrets in accepting the commission. That said, it might be a while before I attempt something like that again. In the meantime, I have a lot of projects I need to get back to.
The joinery is tight and I know I used enough glue and clamping pressure, but… it never hurts to add a little extra insurance. So before I moved on to preparing the top for finish, I added five more bog oak butterfly inlays along the seam where I joined the two planks.
Normally, I do my inlays by hand. I like the detail and precision and the presence required for such work. It is one of the woodworking techniques I love doing the most, whether it is an escutcheon or a butterfly key or a semiprecious cabochon in the lid of a box.
As I mentioned in Part 3 of this series, the bog oak is sourced from a company called Adamson and Low, out of the UK. Hamish and Nicola have been supplying me with bog oak for a while now; it is the best, both in structural integrity and in colour, I’ve ever found. And they will work with you to get the size/cut you need, if you require something specific. If you ever want to use bog oak for a project, I highly recommend them.
These keys are a full ¾” thick. Because of that, I decided to speed up the process of waste removal with my small Bosch palm router, one of the few hand tools with tails I still own, and a ¼” spiral upcut bit. I also used a powered drill for the initial waste removal since I still need to clean up most of my brace bits.
For a slight change of pace, I’m going to let the pictures do much of the talking…
In order to avoid making the table look like a big zipper, I didn’t want to space the butterfly inlays out evenly along the entire length.
Though it might not look like it, there is actual method to how I positioned them. I started at the far end, laying out some thin hardboard templates of the inlays so I could figure out the best placement. I decided to place one 5” from the far end of the inner live edge. To balance that, I put the farthest butterfly 5” from the end of the board. That left a space of 12.5” between them.
I mirrored that layout on the near end – 5” of space, butterfly inlay, 12.5” of space, butterfly inlay. For the middle butterfly, I measured out 5” from the near end of the inner live edge. Since that black bog oak inlay would be highlighted by the sapwood, it was the most important one to do as cleanly as possible.
The end result is, I think, a good layout. While you might not see the composition when you look at it, your brain probably does, and it lets you know it is a pleasing aesthetic feature. And I know I have five additional aids in making sure the seam between those two planks will always stay nice and tight.
Before I glued up the top, there were a few things I wanted to do first – fill in large voids with epoxy, add some butterfly inlays or keys to two knots and a split, even out any discrepancies in the thickness of the two planks, and then get a few coats of finish on the underside of the table.
There were several “firsts” with this project and one of them was using epoxy to fill a void. It wasn’t terribly difficult, though at times it felt like I was trying to fill the Grand Canyon because of how much epoxy I was pouring into the larger voids. But I guess it was all spreading out and stabilizing the knot, so I’m not really complaining.
For good measure, though, I inlaid a few butterfly inlays or keys through the knots and a split that was coming off of one of them. I used kiln-dried bog oak from Adamson and Low. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to inlay these a full ¾” deep, but I was going to be doing a series of them later where I did want the extra depth, so I figured I’d just set my tools up once and be done with it. Part 4 of this series will outline my technique for adding a butterfly inlay, so you just get a picture now.
Or maybe two pictures… Chris Schwarz recently posted about adding butterfly keys to a table top. He said he uses dovetail angles for his butterfly angles. Personally, I use the angle of the side bevels of my Lie-Nielsen 3/8” chisel to determine the angles of the inlays.
Kidding. That was just fortuitous; it made cleaning the corners up very easy. No, I used graph paper and laid out 1:8, 1:6, and 1:4 ratio angles and decided I preferred the steeper 1:4 ratio, so that is what I used. The inlays are just about 3” long or so; I’d read in several places that anything longer than that started to compromise the strength of the key. Since mine are more structural than decorative, I didn’t want to do that.
I didn’t take any pictures of the next part, but in order to make sure the top side of the two planks was coplanar, I used a biscuit jointer (also borrowed from Michael) to cut about six biscuit slots in both boards, referencing the top side each time. I made sure to avoid the last eight inches of either end of the planks so I didn’t cut through a biscuit when I was trimming the ends. This was my first time using a biscuit joiner, but I’d seen enough examples of that happening to other people and I’d rather learn from their mistakes than make my own!
When I flipped the planks over, I inserted the biscuits (dry) and clamped up the top. That left my top (relatively) flush and I could see where I needed to work the underside. I thought that was a rather brilliant idea, myself, and it really paid off. Once I had the underside prepped, I went ahead and applied a few coats of finish to it before I flipped them back over.
Throughout this build, I’ve put a lot of time, thought, and consideration into decisions when it mattered the most, especially when I was working on something that would normally be quite stressful. Having spent several hours making sure the two planks joined together with only the lightest of clamping pressure, aligning the top with biscuits, and adding several clamping areas during the modification of my “lie” edges, the glue-up was really not that stressful.
One thing I did to aid in clamping, aside from creating flat clamping spots when I was working the live edges, was to add cork-faced poplar clamping pads to all of my clamps. Being softer than walnut, I hoped the poplar would crush before it distorted my table edges. I also got a chance to use some new-to-me antique pipe clamps I picked up for a song off of Craig’s List last summer.
I love the robust acme threads and the heft of the cast handle. To adjust, you pull up on the cam lever on the movable face and slide it forwards or backwards. Solid, easy, strong; well worth the $25 I paid for the pair. If I had my druthers, all of my larger clamps would be antiques like this. (If you happen to know where any more are available, pass that information along to me! They’re easy to ship if you don’t include the pipe!)
So, anyway, I clamped up the top. Because of the width of the boards, I really didn’t need that many clamps to exert the proper pressure across the joint. Nothing special in the steps, though – clamps laid out under the table ready to go, lots of glue, proper pressure starting from the middle and going out, you know the drill. I got good glue beads with moderate clamping pressure. And, sure enough, the poplar crushed and gave before the walnut in almost every case; I did have to touch up one spot where the clamp did a tiny bit of damage. I kept them on for a full 24 hours, just to be sure.
Once the top was glued up, I was able to cut the ends square. The entire process took me about an hour. No, I didn’t do it with a 20 tpi razor saw. I used blue painter’s tape to lay out various options – cutting to keep as much of the top as possible, even it if wasn’t square vs. cutting it straight across vs. any other configuration I could come up with – before I made any cuts. Again, the time was well-spent. I ultimately decided to cut them straight across; I figured there was enough “natural” going on with the table already that it needed to have some precision aspects to it, as well.
When I cut the ends flush, I was very pleased to see this gap-free seam. This is the cut straight off of the Festool TS 55, if you’ve had some interest in buying one but were still undecided. Now that I don’t have a tablesaw, it is something I might consider buying in the future.
As I indicated in Part 1, one of the biggest challenges throughout the entire project was just trying to manipulate the large and unwieldy slabs of wood by myself. I took full advantage of any bit of knowledge I’d learned over the years – I used luan ply and cardboard when I needed to slide them and built a long, low trolley (like a mechanic’s trolley) using a piece of 2×12 and some caster wheels for when sliding them wasn’t enough.
Once I had the planks in my possession, the first order of business was to clean off three years of barn dust, grime, and grit. An hour or two on a chilly spring morning with a stiff nylon brush gave me a better look at some of the figure and grain pattern in the planks.
Then I had to load them back up into my car to get them to WunderWoods, where my friend Scott has a 37” wide belt sander he calls his “friend maker”. (For the record, I was friends with him before he got the wide belt sander. And I paid him for time on the machine.) We ended up removing 5/16” off the two planks before they were flat. I didn’t mind; every pass made them just a little bit lighter.
Almost every step in this entire process involved making some pretty significant decisions that would have a large impact on the final product. Once they were flattened, I needed to figure out how I was going to lay the tables out. If I book-matched them, I would end up with one live edge that sloped downward and one live edge that sloped upward and that would look weird. If I slip-matched them, one end would be significantly wider than the other. With some help from Scott, I decided on the layout pictured above. The slab on the right is sequential to the one on the left, only rotated 180 degrees. This ensured I have downward-sloping live edges on both sides and it also helped even out the width of the two planks.
Then it was time to make the planks just a bit lighter as I removed some edges to prepare them for joinery. I had several design discussions with the client up to that point. We were both on the same page in that we wanted the table design to showcase the wood. So he was OK with leaving some of the sapwood in the middle; he even suggested leaving some of the live edge, as well, creating a gap they might use for power cords for electronic devices.
Using a Festool TS 55 (borrowed from Michael, another friend – I have some really great friends, in case I haven’t mentioned that before) I trimmed off one edge of each plank so I could join them. As discussed, I left as much sapwood as possible and kept a bit of live edge, too.
The Festool got me very close to a jointed edge, but it obviously needed more work before it was ready for a glue-up. That left me trying to figure out how to best joint them. The obvious solution was to clamp the slabs to a workbench. But what do you do when your workbench is in the workshop in the basement and your incredibly large and unwieldy planks are in the garage? You improvise, of course!
I grabbed one of the large reclaimed pine beams that will, at some point, be used for a new workbench and brought it out to the garage. I clamped it onto one end of the sawhorses and put an old milk crate (“old” as in strong and sturdy, the kind a college student in the 1990’s might somehow end up with before you could buy cheap ones at Walmart) on the ground between them. Then I lifted the plank up (a bit lighter after some wood removal and some additional drying in my kiln-like garage), rested it on the crate, and clamped it to the beam. The other plank ensured I had enough weight on the sawhorses that nothing moved easily and it kept everything from tipping over.
It worked quite well, I have to admit. I was able to use my recently-refurbished Type 9 No. 7 (a topic for another post) to get it incredibly close. I was so pleased to be able to get this level of accuracy across eight and a half feet of 6/4 walnut!
The final finessing of the joint would be done with a well-tuned and sharpened block plane while the planks were flat and I could easily push them together to check my progress. Obviously, this joint needed to be executed well, so I spent several hours getting it just right.
I’ve never had so many savings from jointing two boards; this is more like the volume of shavings I have after surfacing the boards for a box!
It wasn’t yet time for glue, though. I wanted to do as much work on the two planks while they were still separate because they were easier to maneuver. So at this point I began working the live edges.
After doing a bit of studying and research on live edge tables, I’ve come to the conclusion that they should really be called “lie” edge tables. The live edge you see on a finished table is rarely how the edge really looked when the tree was cut down. In this case, I had some really sharp spikes that were hidden under the bark where new branches were forming and part of one side came to a fragile, almost knife-like edge for several feet. I couldn’t leave it as-is because it was prone to breaking and was even kind of sharp. So I pulled out a variety of tools – some drawknives and spokeshaves – and went to work on making my own live edges.
After a bit of trial and error, and a lot of work, I ended up with live edges that still looked “real” without having edges that could slice an arm or stab someone in the chest. I also (brilliantly) took the opportunity to create several areas that were close to 90 degrees so I would have places to put my clamps during the glue-up.
In the next part, I’ll cover knot stabilization and the glue-up.